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Winner's Dinners

Published 18 July 1993
Style Magazine
4th article

It's time someone told headwaiters to be welcoming. I've waited while they talked on the phone, ignored me, or simply weren't around. Now, if they're not gracious, I say: "Am I inconveniencing you by turning up?" or "You're obviously having a terrible day, but it's not essential for me to know about it."

I phoned The Ivy recently, and a man named Francois Valerio came on. Me: "Hello, this is Michael Winner." Him: "Yeah." Me: "Are you the headwaiter?" Him: "Yeah." Me: "Is that how you answer the phone at The Ivy?" Him: "Wha' d'you want?" Me: "I did want to book a table, but I don't now."

By contrast, Angelo Pino at its sister-restaurant, Le Caprice, is a joy, a lesson in headwaitership. Other fine examples in London include Ian Macrae (The Belvedere), Daniel Azoulai (Claridge's) and Tony Federici (Cibo).

My favourite headwaiter is the exuberant Peter Lam, whom I've known for 20 years. When the chef at I Ching (now sadly closed) walked out, Lam served nuts for an hour, then suddenly appeared with a roast duck, which he offered to me, then showed to all the other foodless tables.

The duck disappeared into the kitchen and was never seen again. But Peter kept everyone happy until a new chef was brought in.

He has now opened his own Chinese restaurant, Mr Lam, in Harrow. I haven't been yet because, for me, north of Hyde Park is an expedition. But Helen Zahavi, the author of Dirty Weekend, has. Helen is even fussier than me. She takes each mouthful from her plate, defying it to please her. She reported that Mr Lam's was wonderful, far too good for Harrow. Take that as a recommendation.


Overall, running a hotel is satisfying, but spare me the man who comes out with the sole intention of finding something to criticise. Indeed, if a customer put your Restaurant Watch coupon on one of our restaurant tables, I would suggest that they left. On average, we are not charlatans trying to rip off the M Winners of this world. We are reasonably dedicated people endeavouring to do a difficult job.
David Grant, Chadlington, Oxfordshire

I read with interest of your new service and wish to inform you of my recent experience at Morels, Haslemere. I visited this restaurant with two friends on Friday, July 9; it was our first visit and we travelled the distance from Canterbury. It took three attempts over 25 minutes to get our first order correct. Not a word of apology was received from the waiter in question, not a smile, just an unpleasant "tut". The waitresses (sweet as they were) seemed incapable of serving bread rolls with a spoon and fork. Our first course order arrived incorrectly. My main course was dropped in the kitchen. I should point out that the food was outstanding, but the poor service became a topic of conversation and rather ruined the evening.
John Shepherd, St Edmund's School, Canterbury, Kent

I strongly support The Sunday Times's efforts to improve the quality of restaurants and would like to take the opportunity to offer all readers who display the Restaurant Watch coupon on their tables a complimentary glass of house wine for them and their guests.
Christopher Gilmour, Chrisropher's American Grill, Wellington Street, London WC2